Part of what I enjoy most about the Holiday Season is sitting down with the “brus” putting a few down the hatch while engaging in, what military parlance defines as, a shoot-the-shit. Shoot-the-shits may involve a cigar or two, some discussion of the female anatomy followed by a prolonged treatise of a subject that you generally know little about; it’s all good, builds comradery and you never walk away with an answer because it may need to be discussed at subsequent shoot-the-shits.
This year, the shoot-the-shit was the CIA operated RQ-170 drone captured by Iran. The pivotal, shoot-the-shit, question was how the “f–k” does that happen? Well, the details supplied by the CIA suggest the operations center lost communications with the drone and the drone continued to fly until it ran out of fuel and subsequently crashing. On the other hand, the Iranian government’s statement alleges they took control of the drone and flew it down. They support this allegation with photographs and videos of the RQ-170, in their hands, virtually unharmed (perhaps they have highly skill fender and body technicians). So, who do you believe?
Well, my position is believe what you want to believe, but do you have a legitimate right to know, and I think the answer is NO; however, this was a shoot-the-shit so it had to be hashed out.
So, are we so incompetent as to let an RQ-170 go on an intelligence gathering mission and fall into an enemy’s hands? Yes we could be, or perhaps the objective was to assess Iranian defensive capabilities against stealth aircraft, or perhaps, we’d like Iran to “acquire” intelligence that is unreliable. How did the Iranian military detect the drone. The RQ-170 has a ceiling in excess of 40,000 feet. There are numerous possibilities but here are some of my thoughts.
Could the Iranian’s actually detect and possess the technology to take over a stealth drone? Well, may be, but how would you go about doing that? Here’s one theory.
- Use jamming against the communications channel. Even if the jamming is not designed to be specific, it can still reduce the signal-to-noise ration sufficiently to disrupt communications. Once communications is disrupted you attack the GPS using a process called spoofing. Spoofing involves getting a GPS receiver to lock on to a bogus signal which then introduces a deceptive signal delay (which is how GPS works) and in the process misleading the drone’s guidance system. The drone’s own guidance system and / or auto pilot corrects it’s flight path to get back where it needs to be. However, that correction is where the enemy wants it to be rather than where the CIA wants it to be. Other than overcoming GPS encryption issues, we aren’t talking about Star Wars stuff. Maybe the jamming signal also impacted GPS reception, on the military navigational system, and the drone’s GPS falls back to a commercial GPS satellite network, which can then be readily attacked.
Rest assured that all sides are looking at this very closely and the combinations and permutations of the event are probably endless.